NCAA Women: Smith leads Stanford to Pac-12 success

Australian sophomore Alanna Smith has led Stanford’s charge to the Pac-12 title, top scoring with 18 points in the Cardinal’s 48-43 win over top seed Oregon State. The forward out of Melbourne also finished with four blocks as the Stanford defense stymied Oregon State throughout the final three quarters after giving up 22 points in the opening term.

Smith came off the bench following the first quarter media timeout, by which time Stanford were down 16-3 and had more turnovers than points to their name after giving the ball away on four consecutive possessions. Adding a spark to a Stanford side which had started uncharacteristically slowly, the sophomore quickly earned a trip to the line before knocking down a three pointer in the final minute of the opening term to drag the Cardinal to within 10 after the first quarter.

The second quarter saw Smith score 8 of her 18 points in a six minute stretch as Stanford held Oregon State scoreless for approximately the same stretch. Smith’s ability to score in multiple ways kept the Beavers guessing throughout the third term, and the Australian took full advantage. Her aggression going to the basket coupled with a willingness to shoot the jumper from mid-range kept Oregon State’s defense guessing and allowed Smith to attack repeatedly throughout the latter stages of the opening half.

If the first half was an offensive exhibition from Smith, the second half showed the sophomore’s defensive prowess. Smith came up with four blocks, including three in the space of 49 seconds, as Stanford’s defense held Oregon State to just 14 points in the second half. Trailing 36-34 going into the final quarter, Stanford came home with a wet sail. Taking the lead with 7:27 to play on Smith’s layup, the 11-time Pac-12 champions managed to hold Oregon State at bay to run out 48-43 winners and secure their 12th championship in just 16 years.

Further good news came shortly after the game with the announcement that Smith had been named in the All-Tournament team, alongside Kristine Anigwe, Sydney Wiese, Jordin Canada, and Sabrina Ionescu, four players who are tabbed to be WNBA draft picks either this year or in the future. It was a just reward for an outstanding season that culminated in a fantastic championship game performance.

Smith has more than doubled her rebound tally from last season and improved her scoring from 5.4 to 7.9 points per game. This improvement will see Smith become of Stanford’s key players in the NCAA Tournament, having developed into the team’s sixth player as the season progressed. Today’s win pushes Stanford into a projected #2 seed, but the Cardinal will not be able to make use of their tournament hosting rights. The Pac-12 Gymnastics championship is to be held at their home arena of Maples Pavilion at the same time as the NCAA Tournament, and Stanford would instead have to travel to the home court of the #7 seed.

Stanford reached the Elite Eight as a four seed last season after upsetting top seeded Notre Dame in the Sweet Sixteen, but were then in turn upset 85-76 by #7 seed Washington. Given that performance and the improvement of the team this season, the Cardinal will surely have their eye on a return to the Final Four for the first time since their 2014 trip which ended in a loss to eventual champions UConn.